Tag Archives: democracy

The vote to leave the European Union: democracy v totalitarianism v bullshit?

DailyExpress, 25th June 2016

The result of the Brexit vote was surprising.

The reaction of many on the ‘losing’ side has been interesting, if not surprising.

There was a 52%-48% vote in favour of the UK leaving the EU on a high 72% turnout on a national vote that was always said to be a ‘simple majority’ vote. As it happened, there was a 4% gap between the two sides.

People are now being asked in the interests of “democracy” to sign a petition to Parliament saying that the Referendum (presumably retrospectively) should only count if there is at least 60% in favour of the UK leaving the EU on a turnout of more than 75%.

The Scotsman, 25th June 2016

If the vote had been the other way round and people were going about trying to get this signed, they would be called Right Wing Fascists who had no respect for the democratic process.

I was also interested in a Facebook post which said:

“No but seriously. What kind of idiot political system allows for a major and irreversible constitutional change when it isn’t supported by most of the legislature or the head of the executive, and even a huge wave of anti-establishment populism can only muster 51.9% support for it in a referendum?

New York Post, 25th June 2016

“In the USA you can’t get a constitutional change unless it’s supported by the president, two-thirds of both houses of congress and 75% of the states. I know that’s making it tough to deal with the stupid bits of the US constitution, but at least you don’t get mad shit like this.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I think the answer to the question:

“What kind of idiot political system allows for a major and irreversible constitutional change when it isn’t supported by most of the legislature or the head of the executive and (it gets) 51.9% support in a referendum?”

…is Democracy.

The answer to the question:

“What kind of system allows for a major and irreversible constitutional change voted for by the electorate to happen only if it is supported by most of the legislature or the head of the executive?”

…is Totalitarianism.

What that says about the US is a matter for them.

Just to clarify matters, I studied British Constitution at school (it was a specific exam subject and, yes, it was a long time ago) and I am profoundly against holding any referenda in a representative democracy.

I think the legislature and executive should decide everything in a representative democracy but, if the executive in a representative democracy decide to hold a referendum then that is their choice.

The answer to the question: “What kind of system allows for a major and irreversible constitutional change voted for by the electorate to happen only if it is supported by most of the legislature or the head of the executive?”

…remains Totalitarianism.

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British comic Matt Roper gets wet in Burma & scanned in a Bangkok hospital

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)

Matt Roper in hospital yesterday in Saigon (Photograph by nurse Than Thiet Sang)

When last seen: Matt Roper in a Saigon hospital  (Photograph by nurse Than Thiet Sang)

When last heard of in this blog, British comedian Matt Roper was in a Saigon hospital suffering from deep vein thrombosis. Now he is in Bangkok. Yesterday, he told me:

“I hadn’t realised how serious the DVT was when I went into hospital. They said if I had left it a couple more days I could’ve died. I have had to totally quit smoking as it puts me at high risk for a haemorrhage – and drinking has gone out of the window too.

“I need follow-up treatment for 4-6 months. I was discharged from hospital in the middle of March but was banned from flying long-haul so had to stay in Southeast Asia for my weekly INR (blood) test. I am on drugs to thin my blood and the INR test is to make sure the dosage is correct so my blood is regulated to a normal level.

“I am meant to be home in the UK right now previewing and honing material for my Edinburgh Fringe show in August, but no can do. No Fringe show for me this year as there is no time. I am gutted.”

Matt was banned from making long-haul flights, but this did not include shorter flights, so he flew to Myanmar/Burma for nine days. These are extracts from his diary:

__________________________________________________________________________

DAY ONE

I have a bit of an accidental tradition of landing in countries when everything is closed because of a national holiday, a religious observance or some sort of civil unrest. A prime example of this was showing up in Paris during the riots of 2005. Or landing in Marrakesh midway through the month of Ramadan for a two week holiday. The latter denotes a particular lack of planning.

As my car inches its way through the traffic of the wide, tree-lined streets which take me from the airport to downtown Rangoon, it seems like I’ve landed on the set of a movie.

Happy New Year: The locals get very wet wet wet in Rangoon

Happy New Year: The locals get very wet wet wet in Rangoon

Thousands of people armed with water guns, hosepipes and buckets are soaking each other and hurling vast quantities of water at the passing traffic. This is the first day of Thingyan, the Burmese New Year celebrations. Everything is closed for four days. Apart from the temples. And the taps.

On the opposite side of the road, heading towards the airport, a tourist bus crawls past us with its windows wide open. The people inside it are waving to the crowds and getting drenched.

“Japanese?” I asked my driver.

“No!” he laughed. “North Koreans.”

Finding this difficult to believe, I asked: “Are you sure? Not South Koreans? I don’t think North Koreans can travel, can they?”

“Oh yes,” he said, “they are North Koreans. We like North Korea in my country. Good friends.”

I sit back and ponder this for a bit, with eyes glazed over, until a bucket of water comes right through the car window and into my face.

DAY TWO

I acquire a guide. A sixty-something man named U Win, unusually tall, pot-bellied and balding. U Win wants to talk about George Orwell, which we do for a bit.

After a while, we sit in the shade of a tree, where he begins to talk to me about vipassanā meditation. “Do you know it?” he asks.

“Yes,” I respond, “I do know it.”

“Do you practise?” he asks.

“I went to a retreat once,” I confess, “but I left after three days… my back was in too much pain.”

“Nonsense!” he laughs. “Just let it pass!”

And that seems to nail Buddhist thought for me: Just let it pass.

“What about the army?” I ask quietly. “Do you think they practise meditation?”

He laughs loudly, looks away, thinks for a bit and comes back me: “No. The army don’t meditate.”

“Do they pray?” I ask. “Are they religious?”

“They offer prayers,” U Win responds. “But only prayers born from living in fear.”

DAY THREE

On University Avenue, I get utterly soaked during this third day of the Thingyan celebrations. At first I try to avoid it but, after a while, I throw away all inhibition and join in with it, filling up buckets with hosepipes, drenching complete strangers and passing traffic. It is enormous fun.

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses a political meeting

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses a political meeting

At sunset I head up the street to the house of Aung San Suu Kyi, hoping she will be at home to soak with water and New Year good wishes.

A ten foot wall and reinforced gates prevent me from doing so.

She is not stupid. The last thing she needs is a hippie soaked to the bone offering unsolicited hugs after a busy day working hard for democracy. Anyway, as I find out later, she is in Japan.

As I move on and nightfall descends, I fall into a gaping hole in the pavement. Pulled from the hole, bleeding from a gash to the right foot, a thought rushes to my mind: It’d be terrible for a man to come to wish a Nobel Peace Prize winner a Happy New Year and end up leaving with nothing but gangrene.

DAY FOUR

I stay in the guesthouse most of the day with the dodgy foot. I have to look after the foot and let it not get infected. It’s the foot at the end of the same leg (the right leg) in which I have deep vein thrombosis. Because I am on drugs to thin the blood, I bruise easily and, if I get a cut to the skin, it takes ages to heal over. The drugs can also make me very, very tired some of the time. And irritable. Not always, but sometimes. Today has been one of those days.

This is the only country I know where they steer right hand drive cars on the right hand side of the road. As you can imagine, being a passenger while the driver attempts to overtake somebody can be a potentially murderous experience. Fingernails into the dashboard time. This is due to an episode back in the days of the dictator Ne Win.

Ne Win, a superstitious man, one day consulted his personal fortune teller who advised him on all things auspicious and how to avoid bad fortune. Soon afterwards, the people woke up to be told – out of the blue – that from now on they must no longer drive on the left. You can imagine the chaos.

Matt saw things other than the golden tourist temples

Matt saw more than just the tourist temples

DAY FIVE

A French lady named Anne comes over to join me at my table. She offers me a cigarette. “Feel free,” I tell her.

Since I quit smoking, my sweet tooth has swollen fantastically and I am making little effort to discourage it from doing so. I sit there watching her smoke while I sip my tea and eat condensed milk by the spoonful.

Anne and I sit by a lake, swampish and green. The lake is full of rubbish: floating plastic bags, empty cans and the odd sandal bobbing about. There are no bins in Burma. It depresses me. So does the bit of dog shit just a few yards in front of me. And the water fountain to my right which has run dry for the last thirty years. Three dogs are snarling and growling because another dog has had the cheek to walk into the park. I quietly mourn silence as I mourn dustbins and civic pride.

Meanwhile, a young couple walk past us hand-in-hand looking for all the world as if they’ve just entered heaven on earth.

DAY SIX

There’s a market over on 26th Street. Dead animals hang from hooks above marble slabs or over large plastic bowls flecked with blood. A bamboo cage crowded with live chickens – unaware of their delicious and hopefully well-cooked ending – shuffles very slightly by my feet. The stomach of a cow droops before me, about eye-level; the creature’s hind quarter is getting butchered noisily on the block beneath it. The tongue and the organs are all for sale. Skinned and ready to go too are all four legs complete with feet. Sellers grin widely at me, exhibiting reddened teeth stained with the residue of the betel nut, chewed for years then spat out onto the streets of Rangoon.

The streets have opened up for business following the chaos of the five day Water Festival.

Everywhere I turn, I am greeted with smiles. Genuine smiles.

Occasionally, somebody will stop me to ask which country I’m from, then which city and so on. I tell them the nearest one – Manchester.

I soon learn that you can’t move anywhere in Rangoon for running into United football supporters and, when they hear me say Manchester, they near enough explode with joy and thank me.

Cyclone Nargis in 2008 was Burma’s worst natural disaster

Cyclone Nargis: Burma’s worst natural disaster

DAY SEVEN

I took the passenger ferry across the Yangon River today to explore the town of Dalah and found myself for the first time in the Burmese countryside: swampy lakes, pagodas, bamboo houses on tall stilts. The word idyllic doesn’t seem to do it justice.

Cyclone Nargis ripped through this place back in 2008 and caused complete carnage. In total, over 150,000 people died.

The junta were still in charge with absolute power and – paranoid as ever about foreigners – refused entry to aid groups who could have treated people dying from preventable conditions. Aid workers were stranded at Rangoon Airport while the junta decided – over the course of two to three days – whether or not they would be issued with visas.

DAY EIGHT

I wonder how such gentle people as the Burmese could be ruled by such a ruthlessly brutal regime for nearly fifty years. They have so much grace.

Before the Second World War, this country was the leading exporter of rice in the world. By the late Sixties – six years after the military coup – they couldn’t feed themselves. By the Eighties they endured the humiliation of being lumped alongside North Korea among the poorest nations on earth.

Sixty million people ruled by an army of fifty thousand men. Men guilty of ethnic cleansing. Men who imprison and torture people who have opposed them. Men who think nothing of using rape against women as a weapon of war.

By releasing Aung San Suu Kyi – the symbol of the pro-democracy movement – from house arrest in 2010, the junta embarked on the final step of a meticulously designed ‘roadmap to democracy’. The following year, they held elections and – while not exactly a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy (the army having guaranteed themselves a 25% quota of government seats) – Burma has now at least a quasi-civilian government.

The internet firewalls have been removed. The press have been granted an unprecedented freedom. The intimidating signs which once warned civilians not to “be influenced by negative external forces” have been torn down. Heads of state and foreign ministers are returning from Burma telling the outside world with confidence that it is highly unlikely Burma will return to rule by the old regime.

DAY NINE

Café, Yangon Airport.

Reading the paper here, I am faced with headlines of destruction and riots between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Arakan state.

U Win Tin – that wonderful writer imprisoned by the junta for nearly 20 years – is being harassed by the authorities, while reports of forced evictions by the Tatmadaw (the army) are on the increase. I don’t know what the answers are.

I wish I did.

On the other hand, the European Union has lifted the last of its sanctions, which has led to the release of more political prisoners.

Does the army use these people as pawns in the game of politics? Or are things changing for the better? I think, perhaps both.

But what do I know? I’m too romantic. I’m too callow when it comes to the reality of politics, but I do understand people. This week has left me feeling more than hopeful about Burma and that all the talk of the Orwellian state will be a thing of the past in years to come.

My flight has just been called. It is time to ascend to the skies and hope for the best.

__________________________________________________________________________

Matt Roper is now back in Bangkok.

Yesterday, he had an ultrasound scan at a local hospital.

“They found a calcification in my flesh,” he told me. “At this point I did wonder whether the nurse wheeling me in and out of the scanning room would be the same nurse to have to lay me out. Time will tell.”

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Democracy is an unworkable system and Proportional Representation is the Tony Blair of political theories

Democracy is a terrible idea and it is totally unworkable in practice.

Pure democracy, that is.

True democracy in which everyone decides on everything would mean everyone would have to vote on every national, regional and local decision. Even if people only voted on life-or-death decisions, everyone would have to vote nationally on the siting of a zebra crossing on a main road in Orpington because anyone in the UK could drive along that road; anyone could be killed as a result of the decision. So everyone would have to decide. The country would seize up.

In the UK, we have Representative Democracy not pure democracy and we elect representatives for areas – local councils, national governments.

Or, rather, we do not.

We do not elect national governments in the UK.

We never have.

I’ve heard the most ridiculous knee-jerk pseudo-democratic bollocks talked about Proportional Representation and a lot of it is how it will “reflect voters’ views better”.

Bollocks.

People say, “Ah, well, most of Britain’s Post War governments were elected by a minority of the voters – less than 51% of the population and/or the people who voted actually voted for those governing parties.”

Utter bollocks.

NO government in the 19th or 20th or 21st centuries was EVER voted-in by ANY voter in the UK – because the UK system is to vote for local MPs, not for national governments.

If the ‘winning’ party were to win a majority of Westminster seats by narrow majorities in local elections and the losing parties were to win all their local seats by massive majorities, then obviously the national government would be elected by a very low percentage of the over-all UK population.

But that is not relevant. It would not alter the fact they had won the majority of seats in the country.

We do not vote for national governments. In General Elections, we vote locally and the party with most seats nationally forms a government. We vote for local MPs in local seats to (allegedly) represent their constituents’ views. Throw that tapwater out and you throw a whole family of babies out too.

In each of the local constituencies, the winner wins by a first-past-the-post system where the person with more votes than any other individual candidate wins. If a candidate gains 40% of the votes and the other four candidates have 30%, 20% and 10%, then he or she wins. This seems reasonable to me. Other people knee-jerk on the fact that the winning candidate has only 40% of the votes whereas the others combined have 60% of the vote.

Tough shit.

So we should perhaps give the election to the guy who came third and who was the first choice of even fewer people???

Silly idea?

That is what Proportional Representation does.

Proportional Representation spreads votes according to second and third and maybe – god help us – fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh choices to allegedly get a ‘fairer’ view of voters’ intentions.

Bollocks. Utter bollocks.

The outcome of Proportional Representation is to elect not the candidate whose policies and personality are most admired by most people, but to elect the candidate whose policies and personality are less disliked by more people. You may end up with everyone’s third or fourth bottom-of-the-barrel choice and not the individual candidate most favoured by the highest number of people.

Under Proportional Representation, elections are intended to include more smaller parties. In other words, to lessen the strength of the big parties and to result in more coalition governments. That is what has happened in countries which have tried it.

So what if no party nationally wins enough seats to form a government?

Whichever parties can join together to create a majority of seats will form the government. Inevitably, the parties which come first and second in the election are unlikely to form coalitions. At the last UK General Election, there was no chance of the Conservative and Labour parties joining together in a coalition. Both unsurprisingly tried to form a coalition with the third party, the Lib-Dems.

Proportional Representation never results in simple situations but, in a simple situation in which one party gets 45% of the seats nationally and other parties get 30%, 15% and 10%, it would make sense for the strongest party to form a coalition with the party which got 10%, thus combining together with 55% of the seats. The fourth party probably poses no long-term threat to the strongest party; the other parties are likely to be a greater long-term threat. Always form a coalition with the weakest possible partner. It’s how devious people play the final round in The Weakest Link on TV – they vote off their strongest opponent and play with their weakest opponent. It’s probably in The Art of War somewhere.

What this means in political practice (as in the present UK coalition between the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems) is that the weaker party will insist that some of its policies are adopted by the coalition government as part of the coalition deal.

So, in the four-party example above, the party with only 10% of the seats will see some of its policies adopted – but the party with 30% of the seats will not get any of its policies adopted.

The result is that a party which (in terms of seats won) the majority of people did not want to primarily see in power gains power.

The other alternative, if you have a party seat split of 40%, 35%, 16% and 9% of the seats, is that the second and third parties form a coalition – thus having 51% of the seats – and form the government. That is an entirely possible scenario and, in this case, the party which has more seats than any other party – 40% – does NOT form the government. The party which only got 16% of seats gains power.

That is not democracy, it is a bollocksed-up system which reflects voters intentions not more but less. It’s a system designed to give a better reflection of voters’ intentions which simultaneously creates weak government and is anti-democratic by giving power to less-well-supported parties.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I cite Tony Blair, a man who, I believe, initially had good intentions but who fucked-up the country, fucked-up the constitution, was profoundly anti-democratic and ended up doing evil with what he believed to be good intentions.

Proportional Representation is the Tony Blair of political theories.

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